Getting a grip on multivendor virtualization

Most shops already use products from different providers, survey says

Jeff Allison's company is considering desktop virtualization, and that task will most likely fall on his shoulders. In Allison's perfect world, however, he'd leave that to the desktop experts. But virtualization has never been a perfect world, and it's even less so now that companies are implementing multiple vendors' virtualization software.

As a network engineer with the Florida healthcare organization Health First, Allison is charged with managing the virtual server infrastructure, and he'd like to keep it that way. He's all for desktop virtualization; it's just that he'd much prefer the traditional keepers of the end-user machines oversee the project, thank you very much.

His reticence to take on the project is partly due to unfamiliarity with the desktop arena and partly due to the burden that comes along with managing and supporting PCs, Allison says.

Health First, in Rockledge, Fla., uses VMware server virtualization and Citrix Systems desktop tools. The IT organization could make the desktop virtualization call in either vendor's favor. It has been conducting proof-of-concept tests of VMware View (formerly Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI) and Citrix XenDesktop.

Facing increasingly complicated scenarios

Indeed, the overall server hypervisor market is becoming rich with options, including Microsoft Hyper-V, Parallels Server for Macs, VMware ESX and Xen variants from companies such as Citrix, Oracle, Novell, Red Hat and Sun (although this last one may disappear, as essentially did the Virtual Iron hypervisor, once the Oracle acquisition closes).

These same vendors plus other, more specialized providers -- such as Neocleus, Phoenix Technologies and Virtual Computer -- have begun peppering the market with desktop virtualization products or bare-metal client hypervisors.

That all adds up to a lot of choices for IT managers. In fact, research from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) shows that the vast majority of enterprises already are grappling with the issue -- if not in production then in test and development environments. In a mid-2008 survey of 627 enterprise IT executives at global companies of varying sizes, only 7% of respondents said they had only one virtualization supplier, says Andi Mann, an EMA research vice president. Survey respondents broke out as follows: 28% from a large enterprise, 37% from mid-sized to large company and 36% from an SMB.

And while a multivendor virtualization environment can provide benefits such as lower costs and best-of-breed product selection, managing all this diversity can be a killer. At Health First, should the desktop virtualization project proceed from testing to deployment, Allison expects to maintain a siloed management approach -- the virtual server infrastructure over here, the virtual desktop infrastructure over there and never the twain shall meet.

That's a tactic many will take, at least in the short term, to get over the immediate management hurdle. But as a best practice, IT staffers really ought to figure out a way to handle distinct virtualization technologies in a cohesive way so they can provide as adaptable and flexible an infrastructure as possible, experts say.

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